Exploring unresolved identities of urban immigrant youth
Unresolved Identities: Discourse, Ambivalence, and Urban Immigrant Students, by Bic Ngo, assistant professor of culture and teaching in curriculum and instruction, was recently published by SUNY Press. In her ethnographic study of Lao American students at an urban, public high school, Ngo shows how simplistic accounts of these students smooth over unfinished, precarious identities and contested social relations. Exploring the ways that immigrant youth identities are shaped by dominant discourses that simplify and confine their experiences within binary categories of good/bad, traditional/modern, and success/failure, she unmasks and examines the stories we tell about them, and unsettles the hegemony of discourses that frame identities within discrete dualisms.
Rather than being cohesive, the identity negotiations of Lao American students are responses that modify, resist, or echo these discourses. Ngo argues that while Lao American students are changing what it means to be "urban" and "immigrant" youth, most people are unable to read them as doing so, and instead see the youth as confused, backward, and problematic. By illuminating the discursive practices of identity, this study underscores the need to conceptualize urban, immigrant identities as contradictory, fractured, and unresolved.